Vintage Loudspeakers, Restored and Transformed Into Aural Works of Art
The Ironic speaker, produced by the Brooklyn studio Oswalds Mill Audio (OMA), looks more like an abstract sculpture than a potent deliverer of sound. And its primary material, cast iron, likely evokes visions of frying pans rather than moments of aural greatness. But the dramatic device, produced in a limited edition of ten pairs, offers a sublime listening experience that the company’s founder, vintage audio-gear collector Jonathan Weiss, has seen bring more than one famous musician to tears.
Its genesis began about a decade ago, when Weiss stumbled upon a collection of rare pre–World War II jukeboxes for sale. Each featured loudspeakers that used electromagnets, a type of magnet that is powered by an external source and that was common in speakers from the 1920s and ’30s, when magnets were heavier and weaker than they are today. (Speakers produce an electrical current that, when it changes, creates a magnetic field; magnets are used to generate an opposing magnetic field that forms vibrations, the sounds we hear.) While this particular design was phased out decades ago in favor of newer technologies, it produces a distinctively pure and musical sound that Weiss wanted to preserve. “These aren’t the kind of jukeboxes you’d recognize from Happy Days,” he says. “If you ever hear one of these things, it’s just mind-blowing.”
So he bought them and, with industrial designer David D’Imperio, set about restoring and enhancing the loudspeakers using today’s technology, realized in an entirely new form. Their most significant addition: a custom quadratic diffuser—a series of thick, strategically placed wells of varying depths that optimize and balance sound—cast in iron using 3D-printed sand molds of their design. “The sound waves go across the surface and wrap around [the concave spheres],” Weiss says of Ironic’s resulting resonance. “It’s about the seemingly random shapes and diameters that diffract and diffuse the sound.” That’s why the apparatus looks like no other speaker you’ve ever seen: to create a more gorgeously clear, warm tone than you’ve probably ever heard.